On Friday July 12th 2019 Utopia 500’s trainee Emira Gerguri held a session in Confraria Vermelha Livraria de Mulheres about an extraordinary practice in Albania – the Burrneshat – and about Women’s rights in Kosovo. Introduced by Marinela Freitas and Marta Correia from the University of Porto, Emira began the event by showing the audience a video that explained the concept of Sworn Virgins of Albania (or burrneshat in Albanian).
A Sworn Virgin is a woman who, as per Northern Albanian highland tradition, can change her gender roles by taking a vow of celibacy, wearing male clothing and sometimes even adopting a man’s name. Burrneshat are allowed to smoke, to drink or even to carry a gun. In Albanian, the word Burr means “man” and when we add –esha to the end of a word, it becomes female. After the video Emira started to explain this practice and its history more in depth.
The audience was told that this practice originated from the Kanun which was Albania’s code of conduct. For a country as Albania which historically was always occupied by neighbouring forces, the Kanun was the only sense of order that could be given to their community.
Another Kosovar was also present in the audience, Lindon Krasniqi, who spoke about his grandmother’s experience – who, in a sense, followed this practice of burrnesha by pretending to be a male so she could be able to join the army.
Afterwards Emira talked about her experience in Kosovo where she sometimes has to wear baggy clothes in public in order not to draw attention by catcallers (and again, one might say, another form of burrnesha). Emira continues speaking about patriarchal societies and on how Kosovo is male dominated and how there is on-going gender discrimination.
She explains that before coming to Portugal her grandmother called her a burrnesha for going to live in a foreign country because in Kosovo strong women are worthy enough to be called a burrnesha, meaning they exhibit all the qualities that make a man, a man. Emira also talked about many personal cases where she saw how women in Kosovo are struggling to have property rights. Again, since the Kanun stated that only the sons could have inheritance (the initial cause of burrneshat), this later on turned out to be part of a custom. Even though the Kanun doesn't have a relevant role in law anymore it remains a problem for it is still followed in some parts of Kosovo as a custom. As the custom of Kanun is still present in the minds of Kosovars, it strengthens the power monopoly of men.
Emira showed statistical data by provided UN Women in 2018 that “a large majority of Kosovars (74%) blame women for ‘provoking’ the sexual harassment they experience. Additionally, 40.5% of Kosovars believe that women like to be harassed, and 31.1% believe people naturally harass others when they are attracted to them and that’s OK.” Emira continues explaining how these data are accurate and how it is extremely hard to report harassment or abuse. These attitudes are also condescending to men, as they imply that men cannot control their own behaviour. However, despite this scenario, there are a lot of women fighting for gender-equality in Kosovo. There are a lot of fields that are still male-dominated, but Emira showed images of Kosovar women that are moving boundaries and breaking existing barriers by showing the Kosovar society that women belong everywhere. For women in Kosovo, feminism is not a choice - it’s a necessity. The big wave of feminism in Kosovo began with the first female President Atifete Jahajaga being elected in 2011 (and staying in office until 2016) and continued with the presence of female singers with worldwide fame like Era Istrefi, Rita Ora and Dua Lipa and golden Olympics winner athlete Majlinda Kelmendi. All of these examples show that women are putting Kosovo on the map and prove to Kosovar women and girls that they can be anything they want and that the patriarchal barriers will eventually fall.